The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Posted On 25 May 2021

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Brutally honest tale of slavery

the wolfdenThe Wolf Den is another book that looks at a period of history through the often overlooked eyes of others.  This is  a story that takes us to Pompeii and provides us with a glimpse not only into the lives of slaves, or even female slaves  but prostitutes.  It’s a shockingly honest reimagining of a look at these women, often taken against their will or sold into slavery due to poverty, who manage to form strong bonds whilst fighting against the despair and degradation they face daily.

Okay, to be equally honest, I didn’t start out loving this one as much as I’d hoped  BUT, stay with me here.  It certainly doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects and I started to wonder exactly what route the story would go down.  On top of that it does start out (unsurprisingly) as a rather seedy portrayal of the lives of the women and I started to feel a measure of despair on their behalf.  But, also in the vein of complete honesty I confess that this story completely won me over.  The narration by our main character, Amara, becomes a gripping and tense account, heart rending and ultimately hopeful.  

This story doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh truth of the lives of such women but at the same time it doesn’t dwell on the finer detail.  This isn’t gratuitously violent or sexual, there are plenty of references to what’s taking place and none of it is romanticised or painted in anything less than grim reality.  I mention this simply as a warning to some readers, violence, rape (off page), sexual references, slavery, degradation they’re all here so be aware of that when you pick this up but also be aware that this story also depicts firm female friendships and the strength and support they provide.

Amara is an educated, intelligent, well spoken woman.  Her family was hit by tragedy and she was eventually sold into slavery.  Her fortunes fell further when she was sold again into one of the most infamous brothels in Pompeii.  A dark and dismal building,  Small, cell like rooms, packed dirt floors and smoke stained walls help to demonstrate the cloying claustrophobic feel of the place and curtains to divide the rooms did little to provide any sort of privacy from  what seemed like a constant stream of drunken, demanding and often times demeaning, customers.  As the story begins we feel Amara’s shame and despair and the hopelessness of her situation but slowly but surely we become attached, Amara is resourceful and soon realises that she can manipulate certain situations to her advantage and in fact this is when the story really takes off. 

The characters.  Amara is our narrator and she was very easy to like.  She has a lot of sympathy for the women in her life and makes a good friend but this is tempered by the desire to escape servitude and the ultimate dream of freedom.  Eventually her fortunes begin to change.  She is good at planting seeds into her owner’s head, a man driven by greed he starts out wanting to beat Amara for her outspoken behaviour but soon comes to rely on her for the money she earns him.  I thought Harper did an excellent job with all of the character to be honest.  There are a number of different women, all portrayed really well with their own back stories, desires and mannerisms.  Even the brothel owner, a dislikable, petty minded and often vicious character has a long and turbulent history at the Wolf Den. 

What i particularly enjoyed about this was the sense of fear and anticipation that the author manages to create as the story goes forward.  Amara is taking risks, spinning stories and is constantly aware of the precipice that she balances upon.  Her story is compelling and you feel desperate for things to work out somehow.  There’s also more of that brutal honesty in Amara’s actions.  She has difficult choices to make.  She is aware that if she achieves her own freedom she will be leaving these women behind but at the same time she understands that she needs to be free in order to make any sort of change.  Her actions are sometimes heartbreaking as her head overrules her heart. 

The other thing that comes across here, in the most powerful way, is the absolute invisibility that these women suffer.  They are shown virtually no respect, no regard or no sensitivity whatsoever – other than the odd exception here and there.  Most of them are in situations that make your heart ache and yet they are treated terribly.  But, at the same time, as horrible and dire as their situations are there are moments of love and laughter that help to temper the story and prevent it from becoming overwhelming.

I think my only criticism, after I pushed through the start, was the modern voice that this is told in.  I understand the desire to make this easy to access and relatable but there were times when the conversations and actions felt a little too contemporary.  That said, there were also some wonderful descriptions of events, places and special holidays that I really enjoyed reading about.  I would also mention the ending which was both satisfying and surprising – in that it ends with a clear thread that promises more.  I hope that’s the case.  The story is complete but there are issues that need resolving and I would like to return to Pompeii and see how Amara fares.

Overall, I thought this was a well written and gripping story.  Yes, I did have a slight hesitation as the book set out but I’m so pleased that I pressed on with this one and I have no hesitation in recommending this.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 stars out of 5

4 Responses to “The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper”

  1. Tammy

    I’ve been curious about this, it sounds like the payoff is really good overall. I’m glad you stuck it out!

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    A hard book, and a hard story indeed, but your review makes me understand that there is much more than the surface grimness, and that “more” sounds very intriguing.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I know you were having issues with this one, so I’m glad it ended up picking up somewhat!

  4. sjhigbee

    It sounds like a brave, ambitious book that completely achieved its goals – and kudos to you for sticking with it! It might be one I could tackle in kinder times… Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it:)).

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